Wheat & Tares: Who Are We?By: hawkgrrrl
A blog often asks these types of questions:
- Who is our audience? How do we attract them? What will our community look like? Who’s in and who’s out? How can we be inclusive, yet create belonging?
- What’s our intention toward our audience? To change minds? To learn from others? What types of discussions do we want to have?
- What behaviours are allowed? When is someone crossing the line? What are the rules and consequences for breaking them?
When we first launched the site it was based on the premise of Wheat & Tares. The parable cautions: ”pluck not up the tares while the blade is yet tender (for verily your faith is weak), lest you destroy the wheat also. Therefore, let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest is full ripe.” One of our founding principles is a very light moderation policy.
What does wheat look like? What does a tare look like? From a 7th-day Adventist Site, I found this image:
It’s fairly hard to tell which is which, except of course that the wheat in this image is ripe and golden, whereas tares don’t ripen to a golden yellow. That’s the point really. We’re all tares on this earth until we ripen and are then harvested (based on who or what we’ve become). It’s too close to call in the meantime, and it ain’t over until the fat lady sings. We might be wheat or we might be something that looks like wheat but doesn’t actually contribute positively to society. The difference is that people have capacity (unlike tares) to actually change our nature. And people do change their nature, all the time. In that original post, I shared an example from Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. He talked about Nazi collaborators who devoted their lives to providing care for and saving others after the war. He talked about people who were victimized by the war machine and left prison camps only to spend their lives after the war in bitter disregard for others.
Not only is it hard for someone looking at a tare to realize it’s not wheat, but even the tare may think it’s wheat! People (with few exceptions) have good intentions. When I think about our bloggers, one commonality is that we all share an optimism about humanity. Some believe in the church; some don’t (and Fire Tag belongs to the Community of Christ). Some are active; some aren’t. What we all agree on is that belief alone isn’t what makes us want to engage in discussion with someone.
Why participate in the bloggernacle?
A recent weekend poll got an interesting response from friend and M* blogger, Bruce Nielson. J Max at Sixteen Small Stones also talked about the Sunstone and bloggernacle participation, debating the dubious merits of public debate when souls are at stake.
J. Max made a pretty good case for why we shouldn’t participate in online blogging. Those arguments essentially boil down to the following:
- Not in front of the children! Do believing members (like J Max, Bruce, I, and many LDS bloggers) want to make any discontent google-able? Are we bringing the matches to the bonfire of our beliefs? Are we painting a bulls-eye on our beloved church by discussing its flaws? It seems to me that we have more to gain by discussing things in an even-handed way than we do by self-censoring or squelching discontent. The illusion of perfection is suspicious. The party line is the enemy of authenticity. That’s tough to swallow in a PR focused church, but look no further than the “I’m a Mormon” campaign. Diversity beats sameness.
- Lie down with dogs, get fleas. The argument that there are wolves among us and that some have a hard time distinguishing between duplicitous bad actors and lost sheep is a valid point. But I don’t believe most people are evil geniuses (stupid maybe, but not evil). There are a few misguided bulls in the China shop, but that doesn’t mean we should close up the shop and only drink from plastic tumblers. We’re grown ups. Mostly.
- Stewing in our own juices. I think this is a valid point. Blogs that strive for like-mindedness often have a lot of meaningless “attaboy” comments vs. actual discussion. As Beatrice says in Much Ado About Nothing: ”I’d rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.” But I’ve certainly seen this behaviour on both sides of the belief spectrum. Personally, I think the caution is to avoid the siren song of the echo chamber, on either side of the faith spectrum.
What is our “safe zone”?
Bruce has discussed “safe zones” that blogs create based on their desired (and presumably like-minded) audience. For example, there are sites that moderate so heavily that your comment is assumed guilty until proven innocent. If you’ve ever gotten a note that “Your comment is awaiting moderation,” you know what I mean. Conversely, go to FLAK or RFM and try leaving a positive remark; you might be seen as naive or even misconstrued as sarcastic. Is it really true that LDS blogs can only be safe to individuals who fit within a few standard deviations on a faith spectrum? Is faithfulness the most important distinguishing characteristic on LDS blogs? Are we all reducible to the strength of our testimony? I’d like to think there’s more to people than that. Our faith isn’t the only thing that unites us or divides us. But if not our faith, then what?
A site like Wheat & Tares with a deliberately syncretic approach (inviting both wheat & tares, in our case) naturally has an amphibious safe zone. Like all amphibians, though, we live near the water line.
In the movie Cider House Rules workmen are subject to a list of rules that is posted on the wall of the bunk house. However, none of the workers are literate, so they don’t actually know what the rules are. Trying to put together a code of behaviour for the blog is similar. People just sort of figure these things out on their own. Capturing culture in writing seems destined to fail, like a company handing out a pen with a slogan on it; the slogan often doesn’t match reality.
But I’ll give it a shot anyway.
Our welcome mat is out: Wheat & Tares are both welcome. We aren’t doing a lot of weeding out. Of course, most people think they are wheat, even if they are not.
- Inclusion. We don’t draw boundaries based on politics or belief or how smart you are or where you live. If you want to be here, we want you to be here. Until you behave boorishly, we assume the best! (The only exception is that if you include more than 2 links or a bogus email address, our spam filter will think you are not a real person).
- “You like me; you really like me!” Use the like buttons to encourage comments you think are insightful, funny, powerful, or generally contribute to the discussion or site in a positive way. What we feed, grows.
- Tolerance and patience. We don’t like dirty fighting. We don’t like histrionics and drama. We don’t like appeals to authority. We’re all grown ups. People will stand or fall on the merits of their arguments. Play nice. The rules are pretty much the same as Kindergarten. Refresh your memory if necessary.
- Respect for differing viewpoints. Listening to other viewpoints isn’t unsafe or threatening. If you want to be heard, start by listening. This is an LDS issues blog, so expect to hear from people with all different views on LDS issues. Even though the LDS church is a missionary church, we’re just ordinary people; we don’t work in the church’s PR department.
- Neglect is our weapon of choice. We would rather starve a weak argument than feed it. But if you have interesting ideas, you’ll get your day in the sun here. It takes a lot to get voted off the island. We’re not big on knee-jerk reactions. It’s possible to be put in a time out, but extremely rare. Why? Because we think the quality of comments is mostly self-evident. Why kick you out when you’ve already made an ass of yourself?
- Cliquishness or a clubby atmosphere. We don’t ban people we don’t like. We try really hard to like you and to figure out why we don’t like you if we don’t. And guess what? People are mostly likeable.
- “Attaboy” comments. If you’re blogging to feel good about yourself, save the trouble and call your mother. Have the courage to put yourself out there, warts and all. Real people are much more interesting. This is the upside to the “like” buttons; no attaboys are required.
- Testimony bearing as a weapon. Blech. That’s taking something sacred and using it to win an argument on a blog. Grody.
- Simmer down. It’s only a blog. Lives aren’t at stake. We’re pretty confident that nothing said here is going to rattle the foundations of civilization. Don’t get too worked up about commenting. There are other ways to support the mental health profession.
- Chupacabras not welcome. We may not weed out the tares, but if there’s a truly evil force lurking in the field, sucking the blood out of the goats, we reserve the right to take stronger action. We have yet to see a chupacabra in action, though. This may be a mythical creature. It’s certainly rare.
- Crop circles. Sometimes people like to play pranks in the field, manipulating others or using sock puppets to bolster their arguments. Just don’t. We run a blog, and we’re not idiots.
- Get off our soap box. An OP is the blogger’s soap box, not yours. This is an open swim party for all, but we own the pool. Don’t pee in it. If you have a hobby horse topic you want addressed, ask us about taking it on or offer to guest post. We just might take you up on it!
- Archnemeses. If you have a commenter who brings out your Irish or gets your dander up, just walk away. We didn’t come here to watch you two going at it. Get a room! And chances are your foe is no Lex Luthor, and you’re no Man of Steel.
**We have talked at length about killing the “dislike” button feature, and it’s something we may experiment with. The “like” button fills more or less the same need anyway. More to follow on this.
Do these rules really describe the culture of the site? Is there anything you think is missing? Are there rules here you don’t like? Are our rules different or the same as the other sites you visit? Do you feel like you know what to expect?